Just under two months into her term as the new Delaware Attorney General, Kathy Jennings took her campaign promise to the people in a town hall-style meeting at the Route 9 Library near New Castle.
Programs for rehabilitating offenders, sentencing, mental health, racism and a slew of other issues were discussed between Jennings and some of the community that helped secure her new office.
Miss Rochelle, a former high school journalism media teacher, had a special interest in the night's topic of discussion as a new advocate for reform and the parent of an incarcerated person.
"I came out, more, to get to know and find out about the issues as well as what I can do, as a new activist, to be part of the solution and not be part of the problem," said Rochelle. "I'm so glad that Kathy Jennings listened to us and really cared about our concerns, as a community."
She noted that, while there were many topics discussed, there was a general theme to the discussion.
"I would have to say that the general feeling that I got tonight was that we need community-based people becoming part of these committees to oversee the professionals who are doing it," she added. "Prosecutors, judges, and the police--we need community people to get together and look at what they are doing. Let's make sure the job is getting done right, and they are following these guidelines. That's what I heard, and that's something I'd like to do."
Rochelle also noted that while the community would want to be more involved with processes, the attorney general also wants the community's input as well as input from officials from her department to make more connections with the people they are serving.
"They want to see more of their people, the professionals who are doing these jobs--get them out into the community, get to know who we are," she said. "If a judge is going to sentence our people to jail and incarceration, then find out why we did it, who we are, and what our backgrounds are. I think this will lower some of the prison population and certainly reduce recidivism."
Michael Bartley was once behind bars at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, but has been a positively contributing member of society since his release almost three years ago.
He works with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and has started the H.E.A.D.S up in the 302 Foundation and came to the town hall meeting with a message of support and concern for the cause.
"I came out here tonight to make sure that our people who are coming into office are being held accountable," said Bartley. "I'm very hopeful that things are going to happen and things are going to change. I'm speaking for the voices of a lot of brothers and sisters who are coming out of prison, into our community. Our children, our elders and our communities need to be safer, and I believe that, cohesively, we can get a lot of things done--it's time."
Both Bartley and Rochelle believe that the community and the Delaware Department of Justice communicating more pushes the First State in the right direction, towards a more efficient, healing criminal justice system.
"Criminal justice reform has been on the platform for a while, but mass-incarcerations started with the Jim Crow era, and it took years to get to the point of mass-incarceration," added Rochelle. "It's going to take time to un-mass-incarcerate and to get the programs along with developmental opportunities implemented so that we can help the people who are being incarcerated and who are already incarcerated."